How to go to graduate school with five children
(and a husband)
- Make the best use of your time.
- If you spend most of your time debugging - or even find yourself
throwing away code and starting over - try planning better. If you
write pseudo-code, you can usually determine if an approach is
bad before investing hours.
- If you spend a lot of time trying to decide how to begin, try letting
your subconscious work for you. Read the assignment EARLY. Try
sketching out possible solutions immediately. Then, let your brain
think about it as you walk between classes, do grocery shopping,
whatever. Then when you sit down to design, your brain has worked
out lots of the details already. (I don't know if everyone's brain
does this for them, but it is pretty common.)
- Realize that not all time is the same. Work with your own high and low
points. When you are designing, make sure you give yourself quality time -
time when you generally are at your best in terms of intellectual ability.
When you are commenting or finding syntax errors, you can be half asleep
and do quite well. Give each stage of the task the kind of time it
requires. Similarly, don't try to design when you are dead tired. If
you have spent ten minutes trying to find a bug without success, you must
do something different: get more debug, rest and come back, ask someone.
Don't spent hours and hours hammering on the same problem. The chances of
success are best during the first minutes spent on finding the problem.
- Decide what NOT to do. You can't do everything. Deciding what not to
do is as important as deciding what to do. Five times an hour ask yourself, "What
is the most important thing to be doing with my time right now?"
I stopped sewing (my kids have been forever grateful) and didn't work while I was in
grad school. I did bake a lot of cookies. It was important to me.
- Get your priorities straight. For me it was family, school, and church. Which
one was first priority varied, depending on the circumstances. Children are
only little once. If you don't enjoy their growing up, you will be forever sorry.
A good friend of mine (my age) just had a little girl (her sixth child) and is trying
to adopt another. She said, "Vicki, don't you feel like you missed something when your
kids were little? They came so fast it was hard to enjoy them. At this point in
my life, I can really enjoy a baby." I responded, "No. I didn't miss anything.
I thoroughly enjoyed my children when they were little - as I enjoy them now. I
have no regrets. I'll wait for grandchildren."
- Have a backup plan. I had great friends who tended my kids for me. I paid
them well and let them know how much I appreciated them. I couldn't have done
it without them. Steve was my backup - not my regular babysitter. That way when
I got into a bind, he wasn't already burnt out from doing more than is humanly possible.
- Work from home whenever possible. For the four years I was in graduate
school, I worked from home most of the time. I went into school three mornings
a week - to take classes and meet with my peers, but other than that I worked from home.
I learned to interleave activities. While the program was compiling, I ran out to watch
my daughter ride her rocking horse. While I was baking cookies or reading stories,
I was analyzing strategies for my next assignment. Working from home (with small
children), I was only about fifty percent efficient - I worked two hours to get
one hour of work done. That was okay. I was where I wanted to be.
- Take it easy. Slow and steady wins the race. There are no awards for finishing
early. No one will ever ask you how long it took you to get your degree. Slow
progress is better than burning out.
- Let everyone help. The kids were great. My husband was fantastic. He would
have preferred to have a stay-at-home wife (we both came from very traditional
families) - but he chose to let me be what I wanted to be. There was no such
thing as men's work and women's work. We were interchangeable. Either of us
did carpools, cooked dinner, bandaged a knee, volunteered at the school, mowed the
- That said, I still am utterly clueless as to how I did it. Some things are
beyond earthly explanation.